Some consider it the ultimate Primal ground – a terrain unapologetically wild and forever untamable. It’s the last place a man or woman can live out every deep seated instinct and inclination with no interference from cultural authorities, no entanglement with others and their needs or opinion. I’m talking of course about dreams. (Those titles ruin all the mystery, don’t they?) Yes, I mean those baffling vignettes that take over when we think we’ve finally let go of the day and retreated to peacefully impervious hours. The brain, however, has other plans and sets out with its own agenda. Sometimes we wake unaware of the fictional muddle we’ve witnessed the night before. Other times we’re roused in a cold sweat, physically and emotionally gripped for hours by some bewildering, miserable ordeal. On a few lucky occasions, we’re treated to the good stuff, a stream of reverie worth luxuriating in if it weren’t for the cursed alarm clock. What’s the deal with all this drama anyway? The Primal Blueprint, of course, extols the importance of adequate quantity, high quality sleep. But what is sleep without dreams? According to research, not much.
A few months back, I linked to an article about a guy who experienced an unexpected benefit after Hurricane Irene knocked out his power for several days: he started sleeping much, much better. Instead of staying up late on the computer or with the TV blaring and going to bed at the usual 11:30 or midnight, he found himself yawning around 9 PM and getting to bed at 10. It was the best sleep of his life, and even better – the effects persisted even after the power returned. He had effectively entrained his circadian rhythm to the natural cycle of light and dark. This is basic stuff to you guys, but bear with me.
Just last week, a reader named Melissa emailed me with a similar story. She lost power for three and a half days after a Connecticut snowstorm took out power all across the state. Instead of panicking, she rolled with it. Instead of freaking out over the fact that there were sub-freezing temperatures, no heat, and no water (it froze), she made a fun snowball fight out of a snowstorm. She took it as an opportunity to get “unexpectedly extra-Primal.” I like it. I remember those New England winters, and I can’t imagine a better way to deal with them than to accept the challenge and make the best of it.
Ah, sleep. We need it, we love it, we crave it, we promise ourselves that we’ll get more of it, and yet quality sleep remains out of reach for so many of us these days. Some do it to themselves, staying up late to watch bad TV (or great TV, which is more understandable) and browse blogs (health blogs that, ironically enough, often write about the importance of sleep). There, the answer is simple: stop staying up. Resisting technology’s allure might be difficult, but at least it’s completely within your power to do so. Others have it tougher. Shift workers, for example, can’t just up and switch careers or get a new schedule after reading a blog. Since this is not the “original affluent society,” we have to work to pay for food, shelter, and other basic necessities, and we have to take what we can get.
Have you defeated the fearsome sleep beast that plagues so many of your countrymen?
You might think you have – after all, you installed blackout curtains in the bedroom, disconnected every LED-light before hitting the sack, peer through slitted eyes at a F.lux-altered computer screen, get seven to nine hours a night, and make getting to bed early a priority – but if you’re still waking up groggy, foggy-headed, and in desperate, immediate need of a caffeine infusion… is the beast really slain or has it merely assumed another form? You could even be displaying zero outward signs of sleep deprivation, like insulin resistance, fat gain, or a zombie-like disposition at midday, instead continuing to lean out and enjoy steady energy throughout the workday (once you snap out of the morning doldrums), but that waking grogginess cannot be ignored. It’s annoying and it’s ruining what should be a serene moment of quiet energy before the madness of the day descends. You don’t want to be stumbling through the kitchen for the coffee maker; you want to spring out of bed and greet the morning like the dear old friend it should be.
Okay, so how do you do it? How do you really defeat the sleep beast once and for all?
Ah, sleep. Nothing like a good dose of the stuff, right? Losing even a single wink of your usual forty (or an hour, as the case may be) is enough to throw off an entire day.
But do you know who might love sleep more than anyone or anything? Our livers.
Yes, livers. Those fleshy multivitamins with an apparent propensity for fat accumulation function best on a good night’s sleep. New research is revealing exactly why shift workers and other chronically sleep deprived members of mankind tend to have problems with obesity, insulin resistance, diabetes, heart disease, and all the other popular features of metabolic syndrome: their livers aren’t processing fat efficiently, instead allowing fat to accumulate.
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